I cannot believe the church’s responsibility is so small that we get to shrug and try better next time.

Monochrome picture of small wooden cross on white background with the words: I cannot believe the church's responsibility is so small, that we get to shrug and try better next time. On lament and overcoming helplessness. workthegreymatter.com

I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen some pretty horrific things passing through my social media feed the last few weeks. And I am not OK.

I’m not going to re-share the relevant images or specifics, but I want to pause for a moment and talk about what to make these stories. Because their haunting horror isn’t easing and I need to find a way to get through my grief and sense of helplessness.

Content warning: Non-specific mentions of martyrdom, suffering and ‘thoughts and prayers’.

Continue reading I cannot believe the church’s responsibility is so small that we get to shrug and try better next time.

White Christians: don’t quote Ezekiel to duck responsibility for past and present racism

Vertical extract of the Hebrew text of the book of Ezekiel chapter 18, in a wider dark red background. Over the background are the words: White Christians: don't quote Ezekiel to duck out of past and present racism. workthegreymatter.com

So, I saw someone asking why white Christians were repenting of the sins their ancestors committed against people of colour.

And I want to write about this.

Caveats: I’m mainly going to talk to how I understand the Old Testament, because the Old Testament was being quoted and it’s something I’m familiar with as a Christian. But just because I’m taking this angle, that doesn’t mean it’s the most relevant or comprehensive angle; I just want to demonstrate how this particular argument doesn’t stack up.

In short, the argument was this: if we’re all responsible for what we do ourselves, not what other people do, then white people shouldn’t have to apologise for the racism of other white people. See, for example, the principle of individual responsibility promoted in Ezekiel 18:19-20.

However, I think this fails to appreciate the context of Ezekiel and the attitudes the book was responding to.

So let’s dive in.

Content warning, this gets political and I mention an Old Testament clobber passage. Also, I don’t have space here to get into why bad things happen and people suffer; Ezekiel clearly had a concept of divine retribution and I’m going to roll with that worldview for now, because it was also implicit in the Tweet I read. Continue reading White Christians: don’t quote Ezekiel to duck responsibility for past and present racism

Shameless about…? On hearing Nadia Bolz-Weber at Southwark Cathedral

Picture of the book "Shameless: A sexual reformation" by Nadia Bolz-Weber, with a card sticking out saying "I'm ready to be SHAMELESS about ...." Text over the top: On hearing Nadia Bolz-Weber at Southwark Cathedral workthegreymatter.com

“Breathe in the good s***, breathe out the bulls***.”

As I told a friend I was going to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber speak, he said she was the only person he’d ever heard swear in St Paul’s Cathedral. She’s probably also the only person people have heard swear in Southwark Cathedral too – which is where I heard her speak about her recent book “Shameless.” Trust me, when I use asterisks in this post, you can be sure that she didn’t.

For those who don’t know, Nadia is a rather unconventional Lutheran pastor. She was the founding pastor of a congregation called “House for All Sinners and Saints” and she’s gone on record saying that ethically-sourced porn is OK. Her Twitter handle is @sarcasticluther and she puts “SHAMELESS af” after her name.

Well that’s one way to make a statement.

She’s also authentic in what she says and a lot of people appreciate her honesty. I personally think she preached sensationally at Rachel Held Evans’ funeral. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it here. Continue reading Shameless about…? On hearing Nadia Bolz-Weber at Southwark Cathedral

Does Good Omens promote the Gospel? Not quite, but it comes close

Book of Good Omens, brown cover, hardback, by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, on black background with the text "Does Good Omens promote the gospel? Not quite, but it comes close..." workthegreymatter.com

This is the second of a pair of posts about Good Omens. I’ll start with a quick recap of where I got to in the previous one, and don’t worry, this post is half the length of its predecessor.

There was this bit:

We should appreciate then that the story is about misfits trying to change the establishment, far more than any modern concepts of witchcraft. In fact, all the heroes, by their very nature and identity, transgress the bounds of acceptability in one way or another.

And this bit:

The question for critics, if they can concede that Good Omens is a good piece of storytelling, is whether its transgressive core is against Christian belief. Because let’s face it: disobedience, mischief and rebellion aren’t exactly renowned Christian virtues.

OK, let’s get stuck in. Continue reading Does Good Omens promote the Gospel? Not quite, but it comes close

Does Good Omens promote Satanism? Wow, OK, let’s talk about this.

Hardback book, "The Quite Nice and Fairly Accurate Good Omens script book" adapted from the novel, by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, on black background with the text "Does Good Omens promote Satanism? Wow, OK, let's talk about this" workthegreymatter.com

It’s easy to guffaw when a bunch of anxious conservative Christians launch a petition calling for Netflix to cancel a popular show. Especially when that show, the recent adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s and Neil Gaiman’s book Good Omens, was actually a joint work from Amazon and the BBC.

But if we can reasonably assume that these concerns will persist even in the face of Netflix’s promise not to make any more, let’s ask the question in all seriousness: does the show make Satanism ‘appear normal, light and acceptable’? Does it mock God’s wisdom?

In my habit of writing long posts, I’ve split this one into two parts. Part 1 digs into the genre of Good Omens and what that does and (more to the point) doesn’t say about Satanism. In Part 2, I focus more on the faith angle, looking at the theology of challenging norms and asking how closely Good Omens fits with this. Continue reading Does Good Omens promote Satanism? Wow, OK, let’s talk about this.

I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; here’s what happened when I complained

Picture of wooden crucifix on a table, with the words "I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; here’s what happened when I complained"

You’ll get the most out of this post if you first read the previous one. Basically, I went to a talk where a man preached that Jesus took humanity’s punishment when Jesus suffered on the cross. At the end I said I didn’t think was supported by the bible, but rather Jesus took humanity’s sin.

In the previous post, I talked about what the theology of penal substitutionary atonement is, why I have such issue with it, what this man actually said, and what I said by way of challenge.

This post charts my experiencing of going into that talk, coming away from it, and how people responded to me.

I’m sharing this because one of the most pressing questions of the current time is how people can raise their voices and be heard and bring about positive change. I don’t have all the answers, but my reflections on this particular incident may give people helpful food for thought. Continue reading I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; here’s what happened when I complained

I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; it tainted the ‘good’ in Good Friday

Picture of wooden crucifix on a table with the words "I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; it tainted the ‘good’ in Good Friday"

So, last week I heard a man in paid ministry explain why Good Friday is good.

I took notes.

I knew in advance that he was an evangelical, so I guessed he’d be presenting a variant on penal substitutionary atonement (PSA). In this post I’ll lay out what PSA is, what he said, what I said to him by way of challenge and other reasons why I felt the theology was problematic. In the next post, I’ll discuss the fallout, how that affected me, and what I make of the situation as a whole. Continue reading I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; it tainted the ‘good’ in Good Friday

Evangelicals can’t sanitise Vicky Beeching’s conversion exorcism as badly worded prayers

Vicky Beeching book Undivided with text Evangelicals can't sanitise Vicky Beeching's exorcism as just badly worded prayer

When I first read the interview in which Christian singer-songwriter Vicky Beeching came out as a lesbian (after a substantial performing career in the USA’s Bible Belt), I found myself faced with a number of challenges. Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest one for me related to how she had undergone an attempted exorcism. It had been aimed at converting her sexual orientation from gay to straight and she had been traumatised by this experience.

I wanted to understand why this was the case. (In all honesty, this wasn’t obvious to me.)

Now, reading her recent memoir-cross-apologetic Undivided, where she defends both her gay identity and LGBTQ+ identities in general, I still have questions, but I also have more answers.

And one thing above all is clear to me: this attempted exorcism ought not be described as merely ‘spontaneous prayers that could have undoubtedly been worded better’. This is what Peter Lynas said whilst writing for (and on behalf of?) the UK Evangelical Alliance. There is much that can be said about his review, but for this post I’ll focus on just these words. I expect many LGBTQ+ advocates would say these words demonstrate a lack of understanding regarding the nature of the offence that conversion therapy presents to them. I think there is something to that, but what I want to show here is how these words fail to take responsibility for beliefs and practices around healing ministries.

I’ll try to explain my reasons as gently as I can.

CONTENT NOTE: This post describes Vicky’s experience of attempted conversion prayer (using details from her book) as well as some anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric.

Continue reading Evangelicals can’t sanitise Vicky Beeching’s conversion exorcism as badly worded prayers

To stay or to go? On church, LGBT+ affirmation, and uncomfortable places

Imagine being in the following situations:

  • Having a job where the boss of the adjacent department is someone who discriminated against you (and you’ve never received an apology).
  • Being amongst extended family members who habitually crack jokes that demean an aspect of your identity (and you’re never sure how serious the jokes are).
  • Attending a church where the pastor has systematically tried to silence your voice.
  • Being in an online forum where its leader states repeatedly and categorically that an experience of yours did not, and does not, happen.

They’re pretty uncomfortable scenarios. The question is: what do you do with them?

At work, my boss is someone who is streets ahead of me in terms of professional experience, organisational nous and interpersonal savvy. I can barely begin to go into how much I’ve learned from him. When it comes to music though, it’s the other way round. Aged in his fifties, he’s struggling through his grade 3 guitar exam, whereas I had grade 8 piano when I was fourteen. It makes for some interesting conversations.

Piano sheet music from a Cadiz by Isaac Albeniz
(Sheet music from a Cadiz by Isaac Albeniz – complete with notes from my piano teacher)

Recently he described how his teacher had been telling him that part of the art of being a performer is learning how to handle an uncomfortable environment. What do you achieve if you go into the room and the lighting is a bit off and someone’s looking at you awkwardly and you say you just can’t play?

Of course you want the environment that welcomes you. Continue reading To stay or to go? On church, LGBT+ affirmation, and uncomfortable places

Why purity-as-separation undermines the church’s covenant calling

Wedding shoes of different colours but similar ribbons and styleLast Christmas I realised something that made me so angry I wanted to pick up my laptop and smash it to pieces.

No, this was not an urge that I had felt before.

I was contemplating the second chapter of Hebrews which talks about Jesus being made like the people whom he helped. The book is one of my favourites in the New Testament because it has a wholesale take on Jesus as the Great High Priest. I’m a sucker for the Old Testament books of law (don’t judge me!) so I lap up the words of this letter with delight every time I read them. Assuming I understand them, of course. And there’s no guarantee of that because, good grief, this book is complex!

Anyway: I was contemplating how Jesus was both like and unlike the people that he acted on behalf of as a priest. The thought-process was in aid of a blog post I published in the new year about how “priest” was to be my word for 2017. You see, a priest identifies with someone who is both like and unlike them. That is an integral part of how a priest ministers reconciliation. It was that like-and-unlike idea I had in mind when picked the image for that post – which I’m reusing for this one. (It comes from a winter wedding, in case you hadn’t guessed.)

The thought I had as I was contemplating was this: when a group of people, called by God to be ministers of his covenant to the world, separate themselves from others on the grounds of “purity”, they subvert and frustrate God’s reconciling plan for everyone else.

And this is bad. Very bad.  Continue reading Why purity-as-separation undermines the church’s covenant calling

A brain-dump about purity: this time, I think I really might change the world

When I was a plucky secondary school pupil, I had an idea for a perpetual motion machine. I was beyond excited. I was going to solve the world’s energy problems. I was prepared to accept that maybe there was a glitch in my design that I hadn’t realised, so I prayed earnestly that if I was wrong then God will tell me that very same day.

That afternoon my older brother told me it wouldn’t work.

I didn’t believe him to begin with, but gradually reality sank in as he explained. As Scotty would say, “Ya canna change the laws of physics!” Unknowingly, I had been trying to break the first rule of thermodynamics – that energy cannot be created or destroyed.

Thing is, right now, I feel like a child again. I feel like I can change the world. Or maybe it’s not that I can but that I will – by the grace of God, in the wisdom of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the fellowship of the church – change the world.

Is that me or is that not me? I don’t care! The world is going to change – and that’s what really excites me.

So, what’s this big world-changing idea?

I’ve tried to blog about it before and I’m hoping I’ll blog about it in various forms over the coming months (years?): it’s all about purity. Continue reading A brain-dump about purity: this time, I think I really might change the world

The Orlando nightclub shooting: a challenge to non-LGBT Christians

LGBT Rainbow

It’s the one-year anniversary of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting. It wasn’t long after 12 June 2016 that I spoke publicly about how I wanted to react in the wake of it. I didn’t go into whether or not I thought gay marriage and LGBT relationships were right or wrong; instead I challenged other Christians on how they were going to react.

I was nervous, but I did it, and afterwards I was glad that I did it (as were a number other people, judging by the feedback I received). I also posted a shortened version on this blog. I incorporated considerations about Brexit (which happened two weeks later), though the original was written with only Orlando in mind.

And for a while now, I’ve wanted to share the full version, and the first anniversary of the shooting seems as appropriate as any other time.

That said, I am now stepping way, way outside of my comfort zone.

Continue reading The Orlando nightclub shooting: a challenge to non-LGBT Christians

An open letter to Nate Sparks on leaving evangelicalism

Dear Nate,

I wondered what I should I do when I read your recent post about your sense of lament at leaving evangelicalism. Much of what you wrote resonated with me – and yet there were differences. I wondered whether we’re seeing a slightly different problem, or the same problem from different perspectives. Even now, I’m not sure. What I do know is that I wanted to write. And I hope that this letter will be a blessing to you and others who read it.

Continue reading An open letter to Nate Sparks on leaving evangelicalism